Editorial – Trial by Media

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The case of the broad daylight shooting down of a young man on the Airport Road by the son of a cabinet minister has been handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation, CBI, by a cabinet decision yesterday. This is all very well for the case it as it appears today has more than meets the eye. So far the crime profile given out by the police portrays the violence as resulting out of a car chase drama which led to what seemed to be an unprovoked homicide in cold blood. It seems now from investigation reports of the police available with the IFP points to not just two cars in the chase drama, but three. The mysterious third car, an Alto, has still not figured in any of the press briefings by the police, for whatever the reason. Even if it was oversight, this is a serious flaw, for the picture of the crime could alter considerably after this car comes into the crime scene. But it is unfair at this point to speculate on a case which is in progress. Suffices it to say the investigation by a more disinterested agency as the CBI is welcome in the regard so that the entire picture becomes clear. All responsible should be awarded punishment proportionate to their crime, but by the same logic, no innocent must become the scapegoat. Not only this, the punishment ultimately awarded for the cognizable offence of homicide must get proportionate penalty, depending on the motive and degree of deliberate criminal intent with which the crime was committed. It is extremely unfortunate that a young life should be lost in such a seemingly trivial manner, but it will be to the end of justice to have a foolproof investigation establish the exact nature of the crime first before the case is closed conclusively.
In this regard, it is fortunate that the state media has not resorted to what has today come to be referred to as “trial by media”. While there can be no gainsaying that the media needs to keep alert to ensure that the case investigation is on the right course, it cannot be by any stretch of imagination be given the legitimacy to sit in judgement over the case as has been witnessed over and over again, especially in the national private television media. In their rush for so called exclusive information on these crimes, they have been known to jump the briefs of a media organisation to assume the responsibility of parallel crime investigators and judiciary at the same time. The media here fortunately has refrained from such extremes, although it must be added here that a total lack of proactive stance on the part of the media can also be dangerous, considering there are always vested interests involved when it comes to those who hold the levers of the powers of the state, be it the executive or the judiciary. It will be recalled how many high profile crime cases even in the Capital Delhi has had to be reopened after they were closed on account of pressures from the media and the enlightened civil society there. The dividing line between the recommended proactive stance of the media and the “trial by media” scenario is thin. The challenge and maturity of the Manipur media hence will depend on how well it is able to draw this line. In short, it must without compromising the vigilance expected of it, also hold back the temptation to be judge in the matter.
This being the case, we are of the opinion that the handing over of this particular gun crime case to the CBI should be welcome. There were some views expressed by some political parties that this is redundant as the accused had already confessed to the crime. This is at best naiveté. The fact that confessional statements can only be a beacon light for further investigation and never a conclusive proof admissible in any court of law has been debated over and acknowledged ad infinitum. This was especially so in the discussions over the bill which was ultimately to become the Prevention of Terrorism Act, POTA. Yet in Manipur, these demands come up as if the protagonists are blissfully unaware of the legal status of their demands, thus exposing the plebeian nature of the protests. Or else perhaps the implication is there are vested political interests in these demands. Our recommendation for the intelligentsia at this moment is to be cautious, keep a watchful eye, but let the rule of law play out its course without ever trying to presume the prescience of god in the matter.
 

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